Examining the Connection Between Depression and Alzheimer’s or Dementia

Depression is common amongst people with dementia or Alzheimer’s, especially during the early and middle stages of the disease. Since May is Mental Health Month, as deemed by the National Institute of Mental Health, it seems apt to take another look at the connection between mental health and memory loss.

Examining the Connection Between Depression and Alzheimer’s or Dementia

If your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s, the associated memory loss and cognitive difficulties can make it difficult for them to articulate their feelings or moods, which then makes it even harder for their caretakers and families to identify symptoms of depression, if they exist.

Identifying depression in someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can also be difficult because some of the same symptoms can result from both. Examples of symptoms common to both conditions include apathy, loss of interest in activities and hobbies, social withdrawal, isolation, trouble concentrating and impaired thinking.

Caretakers should note that individuals who have suffered from depression in their lives are at greater risk for developing dementia. In fact, depression at a younger age is a significant risk factor for dementia, according to a 2010 study published in the medical journal Neurology. This connection is possibly due to inflammation that occurs in the brain when a person is depressed. Certain proteins found in the brain also increase with depression, another factor that may increase the risk of dementia going forward.

Depression in dementia or Alzheimer’s doesn’t always resemble depression in people without these conditions. It may be less severe or long lasting, and symptoms may come and go; the person may also be less likely to talk about or attempt suicide. In addition, the cognitive impairment experienced by people with dementia or Alzheimer’s often makes it difficult for them to articulate feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt and other feelings associated with depression.

The National Institute of Mental Health’s guidelines for diagnosing depression in people with dementia or Alzheimer’s are somewhat different from the DSM-V’s diagnostic criteria for major depression. For someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, a diagnosis of depression is more likely to recognize irritability and social isolation as symptoms of depression, while being less dependent on explicit verbalization of depressive feelings.

When depression is left untreated in people with dementia, symptoms of confusion and forgetfulness can become worse, which can further damage their quality of life. When caring for adults with these types of cognitive issues, caregivers should be on the lookout for actions that communicate depression, such as negative comments and expressions of sadness, or displays of apathy toward activities they used to enjoy.

Some tips for caregivers looking after someone who is suffering from both memory loss and mood issues include helping them to step up their exercise routine, encouraging socialization, starting a meditation/quiet time routine and engaging them in conversation and activity.

If you suspect your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia also suffers from depression, your first step is to discuss the issue with your loved one and with their primary doctor. If necessary, take your loved one to see a doctor or geriatric psychiatrist for treatment, which may include a prescription for antidepressants and/or talk therapy.

Jackson Creek Senior Living offers all-inclusive memory support apartments that feature access to meals, medication management, community amenities and services and customized care plans, determined for each resident prior to move-in. Call us at 719-259-1331 if you need help determining the best memory support option for your loved one.

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